Xinhua News Agency, Beijing, January 12th.

Question : Enterprise employees, singers, anchors with goods... Digital virtual people are frequently out of the circle, to what extent can they replace real people?

  Xinhua News Agency "Xinhua Viewpoint" reporters Chen Yuxuan and Ma Xiaocheng

  Recently, an employee who won the 2021 Vanke Outstanding Newcomer Award has "out of the circle".

The employee named "Cui Xiaopan" is not a real person, but a digital virtual employee.

  Coincidentally, at Jiangsu Satellite TV's New Year's Eve party, a virtual human based on Teresa Teng sang duet with a real singer.

In addition, "Xiaopu", a digital employee of Shanghai Pudong Development Bank, "Hua Zhibing", a virtual student of Tsinghua University who can write poetry and music, "Guan Xiaofang", an e-commerce virtual anchor launched by Kuaishou, and "AYAYI", a virtual person active on social platforms... … a new wave of digital avatar applications is coming.

  To what extent can virtual people replace real people?

How much imagination space is there for application scenarios?

What are the ethical issues behind the hot technology that need attention?

Enterprise employees, entertainment stars, anchors with goods... digital virtual people appear in all walks of life

  Quickly monitor the overdue situation and abnormal work of various matters, send reminders to colleagues via email, and promote timely handling of work... In Vanke, the digital virtual employee "Cui Xiaopan" with the image of a young woman is responsible for these tasks.

  Vanke said that "Cui Xiaopan" is a virtual character image rendered by deep neural network technology on the basis of artificial intelligence algorithms. The purpose is to give artificial intelligence algorithms an anthropomorphic identity and a warmer way of communication.

Since joining the company in February 2021, with the continuous iteration of the algorithm, the work content of "Cui Xiaopan" has gradually increased, from the initial reminder of invoices and payment collection matters, to the upload and management of business licenses, and prompting employees for social security. Provident fund information maintenance, etc.

  With the rise of the metaverse concept, virtual people like "Cui Xiaopan" are appearing more and more frequently in the public eye.

  With the Spring Festival approaching, some companies provide virtual character solutions, which can provide services for start-ups in live broadcast e-commerce.

These virtual characters can broadcast various product details and work non-stop in the live broadcast room.

  In the "Kaishou Xiaodian" live broadcast room, the e-commerce virtual anchor "Guan Xiaofang" has completed several live broadcasts.

"Guan Xiaofang" cooperated with the live anchor to complete the live broadcast, delivery of goods, and even wheat PK.

Judging from the performance of the live broadcast, whether it is body movements, head movements, mouth shapes or micro-expressions, "Guan Xiaofang" is almost the same as a real person.

  At Jiangsu Satellite TV's New Year's Eve party, a virtual human based on Teresa Teng sang classic songs such as "Small Town Story" with live singers, allowing the audience to experience the wonder of traveling through time and space.

  Earlier on October 31, 2021, the virtual beauty artist "Liu Yexi" released the first video and it became a hot search on the Internet.

So far, "Liu Yexi" has only posted six videos on Douyin, and already has more than 8.3 million fans and over 20 million likes.

  Shen Yang, executive director of the New Media Research Center, School of Journalism and Communication, Tsinghua University, said that virtual people can be roughly divided into three categories in terms of function and value: the first category is communication media, such as virtual stars, idols, Internet celebrities and anchors; second The first category is the professional service value category, such as virtual experts, doctors, teachers, and employees; the third category is the life companion category, such as virtual pets and relatives.

Virtual humans have broad application space in many fields such as media, entertainment, government affairs, medical care, education, finance, and elderly care.

  The "Virtual Digital Human Depth Industry Report" released by the market research institution Qubit Think Tank predicts that by 2030, the overall market size of my country's virtual human will reach 270 billion yuan, and the current virtual human industry is in the early stage of cultivation.

What is the driving force behind this wave of development?

  In the past quite a long period of time, virtual people were mainly in the image of animation and games, and they were concentrated in the film and television entertainment industry.

This wave of development boom is characterized by obvious breakthroughs in application scenarios.

Virtual human can greatly improve work efficiency, solve the problem of standardization of work quality, and cover the service population more widely.

  According to Vanke's statistics, since "Join", "Cui Xiaopan" reminded the documents, the processing response is 7 times that of the traditional IT system, and the write-off rate of prepaid overdue documents urged by her has reached 91.44%.

  Shenyang said that in response to the needs of media scenarios such as news broadcasts, game explanations, and TV guides, virtual anchors have fast generation speed and low production costs. Enterprises can improve content production efficiency, reduce labor production costs, and at the same time create a more topical sense and attention. differentiated brands.

  Song Zhan, executive director of the Intelligent Design and Machine Vision Research Office of the Shenzhen Institute of Advanced Technology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, believes that in recent years, technological breakthroughs such as artificial intelligence have made the production of virtual humans easier and more interactive, and the precision of modeling and motion capture has continued to increase. Ascension, in terms of shape, expression and even voice, is more and more similar to real people.

  Commercial value and capital power have become another reason to promote the rapid development of virtual humans.

The "Generation Z" group has a size of about 250 million people and has become the backbone of China's Internet. The consumption and aesthetic needs of this group directly affect the development and application of virtual humans.

The growth experience and environment of this group of people also make them more accepting of virtual humans.

  At present, many Internet companies are accelerating their investment in the virtual human field.

The reporter inquired about the industrial and commercial information platform Qichacha and found that NetEase Capital, a subsidiary of NetEase, made many investments in virtual people from 2019 to 2021, and at least 4 in 2021 alone.

Not long ago, Baidu released a digital human platform, Baidu Smart Yunxiling, which can provide a variety of digital human generation and content production services for all walks of life.

How far is the general application of virtual humans?

  Industry insiders believe that the rise of virtual humans reflects the general trend of integration between the virtual world and the real world. Although the intelligent level of virtual humans is expected to be further improved in the future, there is still a long way to go to achieve real integration.

  At present, the business model behind the virtual human is not yet mature, and it is more of people's curiosity, verification and attempt of new technologies and new formats.

The reporter learned from Vanke that before the development of "Cui Xiaopan", there was no such post within the company responsible for reminding the progress of the work. The original intention of developing "Cui Xiaopan" was not to replace manpower, but to An exploration of the future state of enterprise work.

  Information from the Intelligent Design and Machine Vision Research Office of the Shenzhen Institute of Advanced Technology, Chinese Academy of Sciences shows that the technology for making and training virtual humans is not mature enough, especially the high cost of 3D imaging equipment and post-production development, and the modeling efficiency is relatively low .

At the same time, the algorithm performance of virtual human needs to be further improved, especially the accuracy of real-time facial expression capture and restoration needs to be improved.

  It should be noted that the ethical issues of virtual humans have also attracted attention.

Song Zhan said that the risk of "changing faces" brought about by the rapid development of artificial intelligence has once aroused people's vigilance, and the problem of fake substitution of virtual humans for character prototypes may become more prominent.

  Experts interviewed suggested that we should be wary of virtual humans "feeding back" their prejudice and malice to humans during the learning process.

In addition, human beings may reach a critical point, that is, the time spent interacting with virtual people reaches or even exceeds the time spent interacting with real people. Some people may immerse themselves in the virtual world, or find the main emotional support from virtual people, which may also lead to a series of social issues.

This requires us to update relevant humanities and social science research as soon as possible while tracking technology, so that social management, ethics and technological development can be coordinated.